Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, known now as St. Bonaventure, lived from 1235 to 1274. He was a prolific writer as well as a professor of theology at the University of Paris. He joined the Franciscans, became head of the order, and eventually he was appointed a Cardinal of the Church.
Delio's book is aptly titled. It summarizes, as much as possible, what St. Bonaventure wrote and taught, and is written in a way that can be understood easily by the average reader. On one level the book is a kind of catechism. The chapters are named Trinity, Creation, Humanity, Incarnation, Journey to God, Imitation of Christ, Contemplation, Peace, and Reductio (all reality leads back to God), just as the chapters of a summary of Christian doctrine might be labeled. Each chapter outlines, very simply and in plain language, what Bonaventure taught on that topic. Bonaventure asks and answers the essential questions: "what is our origin, what is our purpose, and to where are we going?" and "what is the meaning and purpose of Jesus?"
In the first chapter, Delio puts Bonaventure in the context of his times. Even though not much is known about his personal life, Delio describes what was happening at the University of Paris, "the hub of intellectual life." She describes how the task of administering the order might have affected Bonaventure's theology because, she says, his path "was one marked by the challenges of an administrator's life and the constant need to clarify the meaning not only of being Christian but of being a follower of the little poor man, Francis of Assisi."
Taking his lead from Francis, Bonaventure's emphasis throughout is on creation. Creation is a river that flows out from God, reflects the glory of God, and returns to its origin in God. However, were it not for humans, creation could not reflect God adequately, because the human is the crown of creation, "spiritual matter," open to union with God. The material world needs the human to be able to praise and glorify God. For Bonaventure, creation is both a mirror reflecting God's power, wisdom and goodness, and a book in which its maker shines forth. Creation is a theophany, and every creature a "little word."
Christ is the ultimate creation. There is a fittingness or congruity between the Word and the world. Without the Word, the world is incomplete. Original sin was one of the reasons why God became human, but more importantly, the incarnation is about cosmic completion. Christ is the midpoint to which the universe is oriented. He is the goal, the model and the image of creation. Jesus is the form the Word takes when it is expressed externally, the expression of the Father's humility.
Simply Bonaventure goes a long way toward making Bonaventure's thought accessible to a general audience, but it is not a book to be read quickly. Each chapter can be thought about, mulled over, and read again. Aside from the first chapter on Bonaventure's life, perhaps the best way to read is to pick out a chapter that looks interesting and start there. Bonaventure's thought can be somewhat harsh, especially when it comes to the stigmata and the cross, saying that we should all aspire to death and martyrdom as a way to God (138, 149, 154).
At times the book has a tendency to refer to ideas and readings without giving due explanation to their meaning. One wonders, for example, about the meaning of the following statements. Referring to the Son as the perfect image of the Father: "If the Father is poor, so is the Son" (46). And referring to Walter Kasper's work: "It takes omnipotence to be able to surrender oneself and give oneself away . . . ." (117).
For the most part, Simply Bonaventure is straightforward about Bonaventure's thought and writing. However, the end of the book gives in to a temptation to preach. "Despite the efforts today to renew Christian life, there are still many Christians who live without conviction and without passion. They are more excited about football than they are about Easter. They chant 'Alleluia' while yawning and checking their watch" (163). And, "Some are ashamed of Christ and try to excuse the historicity of the Incarnation. . . . the central figure of faith is an obstacle to practicing the religion" (166). Perhaps this is an effort to relate Bonaventure's thought to modern problems, which the book generally does not attempt to do. These statements seem condescending and patronizing when they don't give enough clarity of meaning or examples.
The book is a welcome addition to the literature on Bonaventure. It will make Bonaventure's thought and theology known to many more people than might have been able to understand and be inspired by it.