03.12.25, Anderson, A Call to Piety

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Timothy J. Johnson

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.025


Anderson, C. Colt. A Call to Piety: Saint Bonaventure's Collations on the Six Days. Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 2002. Pp. xix, 213. ISBN: 0-8199-1005-8.

Reviewed by:
Timothy J. Johnson
Flagler College

C. Colt Anderson's A Call to Piety: St. Bonaventure's Collations on the Six Days offers a potentially refreshingly and innovative reading of the Seraphic Doctor's last work (1273) before his untimely death at the Second Council of Lyons on July 15, 1274. The Hexaemeron, or Collations on the Six Days, as it often referred to in the English speaking world, is an incredibly rich, albeit complex, intellectual synthesis of one of the greatest theological minds of the Middle Ages. Anderson's willingness to take on such a daunting, intricate text is certainly admirable, yet it does not prevent him from avoiding several textual/contextual difficulties that mitigate the results promised by his thesis.

This conclusion could have been avoided had Anderson better utilized the results of contemporary medieval scholarship and undertaken a broader reading of Bonaventure's works. Noticeably absent from his study are the seminal work of Jacqueline Hamesse on Bonaventure and university preaching, Pietro Maranesi's decade-long investigation into the textual history and theological insights of the Collations, and the contributions of Dieter Hattrup and Paul Zahner in the areas of epistemology and eschatology. Earlier studies by Ignatius Brady and Stanislao di Campangola are also absent. Piety, which is an obvious central theme for Anderson, is a major element of Bonaventure's theology evident in his hagiographical treatment of Francis in the Legenda maior. Given Anderson's interest in Bonaventure and the Minorite or Franciscan Order, a detailed examination of Francis as the exemplar of piety would have provided the reader with a richer perspective when reading the Collations as proposed in A Call to Piety.

Anderson would have readers view the Collations as a preemptive move against the ecclesial powers that are resistant to reform in general, and the message of the mendicants, in particular. In proposing this intriguing perspective, the author of A Call to Piety seeks to move the debate concerning the significance of Bonaventure's final work beyond the concerns of earlier scholars such as Joseph Ratzinger and Henri DeLubac, who focused primarily on troublesome issues such as the implications of Aristotle's philosophy and Joachim of Fiore's biblical exegesis. Earlier scholars, as Anderson points out, examined the Collations in light of the speculative philosophical and theological questions that vexed the divided academic community at the University of Paris and wary papal authorities. For his part, Anderson proposes (xv) to read the Collations against the backdrop of Minorite efforts to implement the reforms promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council with the hope of finding, with Bonaventure, a dialogue partner for sustained reflection on the ecclesial situation after the Second Vatican Council. This desire leads Anderson (xv) to outline his thesis:

The Collations are intimately involved with these tensions as manifested in the internal and external struggles over Franciscan mission and ministry. In them, Bonaventure lays out the Franciscan agenda for the year prior to the Second Council of Lyons. Bonaventure's primary concern, as we shall see, was to exclude the possibility of scandal prior to the council. In order to do so, he exhorts the brothers to be obedient to bishops and to maintain unity within the Order. He also offers a strong polemic against Joachite theology while providing an alternative justification for the Order's mission of cura animarum or the care of souls.

Following the introduction, Anderson develops his argument in seven sections: 1) Bonaventure's Order; 2) The Seeds of Scandal; 3) The Viri Ecclesiatici; 4) Scholasticism and Doctrinal Preaching; 5) The Multiformity of Scripture and the Vision of the Third Day; 6) Contemplative Eschatology; and the 7) Conclusion. Anderson claims in the Conclusion (197-199) that the fact that the Order avoided a major scandal in the time between the Collations and the opening of the council confirms his thesis. The key to Bonaventure's success is his appeal to the practice of piety, which is emblematic as to how contemporary ecclesial reform can proceed in an atmosphere tainted by legal and political reductionism. A close reading of these chapters rewards the reader with an appreciation of Bonaventure's theological acumen and Anderson's affinity for the Seraphic Doctor. Nevertheless, numerous textual/contextual problems are evident in Anderson's analysis and subsequent argumentation, which call into question the sustainability of his thesis. This review examines three in particular: 1) the number of brothers present for the Collations; 2) the meaning of the term viri spirituales; and 3) Bonaventure's critique of philosophy and scholasticism.

Anderson's argument is predicated on large numbers of brothers coming to Paris for the Collations. To support this position, Anderson appeals to Delorme's edition of the Collations, which is a second reportatio, distinct from the Collations text in the Quaracchi edition. While he states that he is "very suspicious" (vii, n. 3) of its reliability, he does not hesitate to use the accompanying notes found at the end of the reportatio. In an oft-cited remark, the unknown reporter states: "praesentibus aliquibus magistris et baccalariis theologiae et aliis fratribus fere centum sexaginta." Anderson (55-57) reads this text to mean that there were 160 brothers in attendance in addition to the members of the Paris community. He goes on to build a case for a fraternal gathering in Paris that surpassed the numbers in attendance at general chapters. Such exceedingly large numbers are, according to the author, indicative of the mounting interest as well as anxiety among the brothers concerning the state of the Order prior to the impending council.

Anderson's interpretation of the Parisian context for Bonaventure's Collations is unfortunate; it overlooks expert scholarship and weakens his argument. As Jacqueline Hamesse remarks in Le predication universitaire (68-69), we are fortunate to have the reporter's notes, but we must not draw hasty conclusions from such vague remarks. Ignatius Brady, in Bonaventure's Writings Concerning the Franciscan Order (103-104 n. 60), cautions that circumstances behind the Collations are not clear and maintains the audience, while comprising brothers alone, was limited to members of the magnus conventus. His conclusion as to the local domicile of the 160 brothers is consistent with Dominic Monti's assertion in Writings Concerning the Franciscan Order (200, n. 6) that there were over 150 brothers in the Paris convent during the time of Bonaventure. Given the excellent research available, the reporter's numbers seem trustworthy and limited to the members of the Parisian fraternity. Consequently, to claim there was a massive influx of brothers into Paris from provinces throughout the Order eager to hear the Collations in preparation for the impending council is hardly tenable.

Contextual difficulties also arise when Anderson (60-61) delineates a division between the brothers and the viri spirituales of Joachite inspiration. Distinguishing the groups is crucial as Anderson nuances Bonaventure's text by indicating how the Seraphic Doctor specifically appealed to these viri spirituales attracted to aspects of Joachitism. He asserts that the questionable Delorme edition makes this division even more apparent than the text found in the Opera Omnia. To equate the term "viri spirituales" with Joachite tendencies is potentially misleading, according to Burr in The Spiritual Franciscans (39-41). Bernard McGinn points out in The Flowering of Mysticism (94) that Bonaventure speaks of viri spirituales in the Itinerarium VII, 3 as those who follow Francis' model of the active/contemplative life. What is even more problematic with Anderson's simple identification is that it does not appear to incorporate Bonaventure's own use of the term in the Legenda maior. As Campagnola in Dai 'viri spirituales' di Gioachino da Fiore ai 'fratres spirituales' di Francesco d'Assisi (169) observes, Bonaventure employs the term viri spirituales in the Legenda maior, IV, 4 when describing, with language echoing several Joachite themes, how Francis appeared like a second Elijah in a fiery chariot to the brothers in Rivotorto. According to Bonaventure, God made Francis "both chariot and charioteer for spiritual men."

The context of this scene is significant for a number of reasons. To begin, it occurs within a section dealing with Bonaventure's reinterpretation of Francis as Preacher. As opposed to Celano's earlier rendition of the vision in the Vita prima XVIII, 47, Francis now preaches regularly in the cathedral, exemplifying the active/contemplative life by offering a sermon on Sunday morning and then retiring to prayer in the evening. He subsequently appears to the brothers around midnight in the vision and returns later to uncover the secrets of their consciences, to encourage them by recalling the vision, and to predict the growth of the Order. The account concludes by stating the absolute reliability of Francis' teaching and example. Bonaventure's reworking of the hagiographical material with selected Joachite terminology results in a model of Minorite urban preaching similar, according to Edith Paztor in La chiesa dei Minori (64), to the clerical brothers of Bonaventure's day. In the Legenda maior, the viri spirituales are linked with those who follow Francis' example of prayer and preaching, albeit refashioned by Bonaventure. There is no division evident between those preparing for pastoral ministry in Paris and the viri spirituales of the Legenda maior; as both are called to the active/contemplative synthesis suggested earlier in the Itinerarium. Nothing from Bonaventure's writings during the years between the Itinerarium (1259), the Legenda maior (1263) and the Collations (1273) indicates the term had undergone the change suggested by Anderson's bifurcated Parisian gathering. To the contrary, one could make the case that Bonaventure attempted in the Collations to interpret the viri spirituales as those who are faithful to the increasingly popular Minorite construct of evangelical life evident in Bonaventure's own Parisian convent and throughout the burgeoning urban centers of the Order.

Bonaventure's account of Francis as the second Elijah notes how the Poverello appeared brilliant and inflamed, transfigured by God, a man capable of revealing to the brothers matters that surpassed human understanding. Such language reflects the Seraphic Doctor's profound interest, from the Commentary on the Sentences to the Collations on the Six Days, in the role of the intellect and will in the ascent into God and their respective cultivation in preaching and prayer. This undeniable aspect of Bonaventure's project renders unfounded Anderson's claim (89-90) that Bonaventure would not have used the occasion of the Collations to critique philosophy or scholasticism. In the nuanced view of Bonaventure, neither of the two stands as a monolithic methodology requiring total acceptance or rejection. Bonaventure masterfully delineates in the Collations the proper role of philosophy and theology in the life of the Church. Already in his earlier collation series in Paris, the Collationes de decem praeceptis (1267) and the Collationes de septem donis spiritus sancti (1268), the Seraphic Doctor expressed concern with the misuse of philosophy and the potential for theology to be divorced from pastoral concerns. The reader of A Call to Piety can only wonder why, according to the author, the brothers in Bonaventure's magnus conventus would have taken offense at his attempts to distinguish the nature and purpose of intellectual activity within an academic context devoted to training competent, contemplative preachers. Anderson's attempts to read the Collations from the perspective of reform and the gift of piety are ultimately hindered, if not undermined, by textual/contextual issues that are left unresolved or overlooked. In fairness to the author, this reader of The Call to Piety owes a debt of gratitude to Anderson for opening new avenues of inquiry in Bonaventurian studies. While his thesis remains unsubstantiated, the multiple questions and concerns, both medieval and contemporary, that Anderson brings to the text of the Collations will resonate with many and undoubtedly promote further investigation into the context and content of Bonaventure's final work. As the author's article Bonaventure and the Sin of the Church in Theological Studies reveals, such study may also provide insight into the current scandals that all too frequently compromise the evangelical integrity of the ecclesial community.

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Author Biography

Timothy J. Johnson

Flagler College