Caritas In Primo

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In the mid-1250s, shortly after becoming a master of theology at the University of Paris, Bonaventure wrote a series of disputed questions on the Mystery of the Trinity. Surprisingly, this disputation fell out of memory after Peter John of Olivi (d. 1298) last mentioned it.

The text was only rediscovered in the early 1870s by the Franciscan scholar Fidelis a Fanna, within a historical context quite different from Bonaventure’s.

Scholarship, following this rediscovery, has not produced a single study on the entirety of the text, and where the text is discussed, historical context is only a marginal concern.

This study attempts to begin to fill both of these lacunae. I first establish the historical background and context in which the De Mysterio Trinitatis was composed. Then, on this basis, I offer an interpretive analysis of the entire text, paying special attention to the theological and philosophical matters that would have motivated Bonaventure. I argue that Bonaventure, as the newly appointed external chair of theology at the University of Paris, was responding to the promulgation of a new arts curriculum in the spring of 1255. I show that Bonaventure understood how this new curriculum, which for the first time mandated the entirety of Aristotle’s works, had implications for how one should understand the relationship between reason and faith, philosophy and theology, and knowledge and love.

While incorporating Aristotelian methodology and concepts, Bonaventure outlined a synthesis between faith and reason, which deepened, clarified and, at times, corrected Aristotle. I show how Bonaventure sought to avoid certain apparent ‘naturalistic’ tendencies in Aristotle by allowing the doctrine of the Trinity—with its implications for the understanding of perfect personhood and freedom—to illumine metaphysics.

For Bonaventure, a full resolution of the questions arising out of the interplay between Aristotelian science and Christian wisdom is ultimately found in the notion of Primacy: a primacy that implies a Trinitarian order of being, originating in the spontaneous, yet necessary, charity of the Father.

Bonaventure achieves his synthesis through a judicious, programmatic and, at times, stunning handling of Greek and Latin Patristic, Platonic and Neo-Platonic sources in dialogue with Aristotle.

-Description by Dr. J. Isaac Goff


J. Isaac Goff’s seminal study of Bonaventure’s On the Mystery of the Trinityis the first study of the entire text for its own sake. As he wrestles with the subtlety and rigor of Bonaventure’s Trinitarian theological metaphysics, Goff reveals the deep connection between faith in the Trinity and the ultimate resolution of philosophy’s deepest questions, showing how Bonaventure interweaves the spiritual insight of Francis of Assisi with Western and Eastern Fathers in the context of a newly prevalent Aristotelianism.

-J. A. Hellmann, OFM Conv.,
Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at St. Louis University

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