A Double Doctorate: Ss. Thomas and Bonaventure

///A Double Doctorate: Ss. Thomas and Bonaventure

A Double Doctorate: Ss. Thomas and Bonaventure

By | 2015-03-31T20:53:01+00:00 July 15, 2014|Saints, Theology|

People ask me all the time why a Dominican would choose a Franciscan name. I have developed some stock responses:

“Have you ever heard of the Trojan Horse?”

I guess I just like washing dishes.

“If it is good enough for Pope Francis…”

If I’m feeling particularly cheeky:

“Wait…I’m a Dominican?!?”

All joking aside it is a good question, and I have a number of more serious and edifying (at least to me) responses, one of which I share here.

I have a twin brother who is a medical doctor and I proudly remember the day of his graduation, including a curious part of the ritual. When one of the newly minted doctors was called forward he was addressed as “Doctor Doctor So and So.” At first I thought this was a nervous mistake, but when it happened again I knew something was up. Apparently if one receives a M.D. and a Ph.D the correct title is “Doctor Doctor.” Which is fantastic.

So here’s my new response: I am after a double doctorate, not the M.D. and Ph.D kind, but rather the Angelic and Seraphic kind. As you are probably aware, St. Thomas is known as the “Angelic Doctor” whilst St. Bonaventure is the “Seraphic Doctor.” These designations are not random angelic order rationing; they are given because they characterize the differences in theological style of the two Doctors.

The angelic appellation of St. Thomas refers, at least in part, to his penetrating intellect: an intellect nigh on angelic in its ability to get right to the essences of things beyond the sense particulars. While not beholding the beatific vision in this life, anyone who has wrestled with his texts can’t help but feel closeness to that vision. The intellect focuses on being as its first object. And therefore, it is no surprise that St. Thomas—so energized by the life of the mind as he was—discerned that the supreme name for God is “He Who Is,” or the act of being (ST I.13.11). In other words, the human intellect is made to find God, and in Him we know the truth of all things. Veritas is a fitting motto for the Dominicans who see St. Thomas as their intellectual patron; a ravenous hunger for truth is what St. Thomas bequeathed to us. St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, is the Doctor of Truth.

St. Bonaventure earned his title from his passionate and devotional theology, a theology done on his knees. The seraphic order of angels is known for its closeness to God and its exemplification of divine love. For St. Bonaventure it is the rational will responding to God in an act of love that is first and foremost in the Christian theologian. St. Bonaventure wants before all else to love God, and thus theology is an affective or practical science more than a speculative one. Thus for St. Bonaventure the highest name of God is “The Good,” since the good is what the will desires (Journey of the Mind to God, VI.1-2). St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, is the Doctor of Divine Love.

I think doctorates in both truth and love are essential to the way of perfection that is the religious life. Without truth one engages in meaningless acts of passion to the detriment of one’s own soul and the souls of others. But without love, as St. Paul says, “I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13.1). Immanuel Kant famously said, “Thoughts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind (Critique of Pure Reason, B75).” In St. Paul’s terminology, “Truth without love is vanity, love without truth is madness.”

It should go without saying that St. Thomas was not exclusively on a quest for truth to the exclusion of love, nor that St. Bonaventure was fawning after love without truth. Both men were knowers and lovers, but they offer different emphases in the relationship of knowledge and love in theology. Pope Benedict XVI described these different emphases in terms of the ends of man:

“St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure define the human being’s final goal, his complete happiness in different ways. For St .Thomas the supreme end to which our desire is directed is to see God. In this simple act of seeing God all problems are solved: we are happy, nothing else is necessary. Instead, for St. Bonaventure the ultimate destiny of the human being is to love God, to encounter him and to be united in his and our love. For him this is the most satisfactory definition of our happiness (Wednesday Address, 3/17/10).”

These differences do not lead to division or dissention, for Pope Benedict continues:

“It would be mistaken to see a contradiction in these two answers. For both of them the true is also the good, and the good is also the true; to see God is to love and to love is to see. Hence it was a question of their different interpretation of a fundamentally shared vision. Both emphases have given shape to different traditions and different spiritualities and have thus shown the fruitfulness of the faith, one in the diversity of its expressions.”

So why a Dominican with a Franciscan name? Because I want to be a “doctor doctor,” a lover in search of the truth and one truly and intelligently in search of love. Thanks to the wisdom of St. Thomas I know this to be possible; thanks to the wisdom of St. Bonaventure I desire it to happen.

Image: Francisco de Zurbaran, Saint Bonaventure Reveals the Crucifix to Saint Thomas Aquinas

About this Brother:

Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.

Br. Bonaventure Chapman, OP, hails from Buffalo, New York, where he was born and raised. He studied at Grove City College, Pennsylvania, where he completed a B.S. in Applied Physics and a B.A. in Christian Thought. At Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, he trained for the Episcopal priesthood, completing the M.Th in Applied Theology there. In his third year at Oxford he converted to Roman Catholicism. Before joining the Dominicans, Br. Bonaventure taught math and science in Catholic schools in the DC area. On DominicanFriars.org