Medieval Catholics Saw Nature as a Stepping Stone to God

Medieval Catholics Saw Nature as a Stepping Stone to GodMedieval Catholics Saw Nature as a Stepping Stone to God

The medieval era, we are told, was defined by suspicion and discord towards the natural, substance macrocosm. “In medieval Christian doctrine, ” mentions academic and scribe Joel Kotkin in his new book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, “the world we grasp with our appreciations is transitory, while the spiritual world is more real …. The increased emphasis on a future life over the present world increased the passionate commitment of the res publica and family.” For this claim, Kotkin quotes Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a critical, if anti-Christian eighteenth-century history, many of whose thesis have since been proven erroneous.

Such is certainly the lawsuit with Gibbons’ and Kotkin’s claim regarding the reputed anti-nature worldview of the prehistorics. St. Thomas Aquinas( 1225 -1 274 ), uttering recourse to Aristotle, announced today that “intellectual knowledge is caused by the senses”( Summa Theologiae I. 84.6 ). As Aquinas extrapolates throughout the Summa and his other writings, the material world is good, and we gain much of our knowledge of truth, and even of God, by considers the natural seek.

St. Francis of Assisi( 1181 -1 226 ), whose fete day the Church recently celebrated, too had a high view of nature, indicated in his “Canticle of the Creatures” and “Canticle of the Sun, ” that thank and admire God for all of initiation. “Praise the Lord for our Mother Earth, who sustains us and saves us, and accompanieds forth the grass and all the fruits and grows of every color.” G.K. Chesterton in his profile of St. Francis, commenting on this love of start-up interprets: “Man has divested from his soul the last rag of nature worship, and can return to nature.”

Moreover, both St. Francis and the Dominicans, the prescribe to which St. Thomas belonged, were forceful commentators of the dualistic Albigensian heresy, which taught that the material world, and even the human body, were evil. The Nativity scene, which St. Francis created and popularise, affirmed that the human body, colonized by God Himself in the Incarnation, signaled divine applause of its goodness. The Domicans in turn forcefully preached against Albigensianism.

Medieval Catholic affirmation of the goodness of sort is not just for doctrinal determinations. Contemplation of mood too served as a means for the Christian to place his knowledge and mettle to the eternal, as Franciscan monk St. Bonaventure( 1221 -1 274) interprets in his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum( tr. Into God ), of which Regis J. Armstrong, OFM, Cap. has recently published a new, annotated rendition. It is an excellent resource to introduce a less familiar Church Doctor.

The “rungs of a ladder of light” directing us to God “begin with mortals and conduct all the way to God to whom no one rightly starts except through the Crucified, ” interprets Bonaventure in the Prologue. Moreover, this spiritual rising is for the “man of hopes, ” who with prayer that were generated with “anguish of heart” and a sharpened intellect, orients his natural yearnings toward the divine. Affirming creatures and human hunger doesn’t sound like a reversal of nature.

One of Bonaventure’s favorite allegories is that of the mirror. He describes the “whole perceptive world” as a “mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme Artisan.” Creation is a mirror of the see because “from the greatness and look of developed beings, their Creator will knowingly be able to be seen.” Everything in the universe owes its existence to the First Cause, to quote Aquinas, and thus reflects, albeit imperfectly, His beauty, truth and goodness. “The highest supremacy, gumption, and goodwill of the Creator shines in formed objects, ” swears Bonaventure.

With autumn upon us, there are ample opportunities to perceive God in the created order. There is certainly the radiant colourings emanating from the foliages of the trees, which, as they precipitate and degeneration, cause an abundance of maudlin, musky-sweet odors. Yet this in turn reminds us that we, unlike our designer, who is “purely spiritual, incorruptible, and unchangeable, ” are finite, fragile, and perishable. When we gather around the autumn campfire to imbibe our Oktoberfest and cider, we realize in the ignites “the sweep of the supremacy, sense, and goodness of the triune God who, by His power, proximity, and quintessence, exists in all things without being limited.”

The diversity of start likewise derives awe and praise. There is in nature a “unique diversity in material, figure or organization, and vigor beyond all human figuring, ” which shows the supremacy, wise, and goodness of God. Is it not the remarkable diversification of dusk foliage in its many colours and colours that is so arresting to the eye? Nature proclaims the charm of God in its “medley of lighters, patterns, and colorings, in simple, mingled, and even complex bodies.” The oak, ash, maple, pitch-black walnut, hickory, birch and beech light up the moor in my native Commonwealth of Virginia. When I am prepared to hear their sermon, it always causes to worship.

Equally stirring is the activity of nature: “manifold in what is natural, in what is craftsmanship, in what is noble — showings by its bountiful hodgepodge the vastness of that concentration, plane, and goodness.” In the late summertime, mourning ducks installed a burrow in a tree in our front yard( a Yoshino cherry ). Our family watched in wonder as the chicks constructed their little home, laid their eggs, perched in guarded care for them, and nursed the hatchlings. Then, one day in late September, the baby doves make flight, perhaps never to return. How countless same little feats of creation follow, unnoticed, right under our snouts, because we are too busy or disconcerted to care?

The natural world is designed, maintains Bonaventure, which “implies the primacy, sublimity, and dignity of the First Beginning.” The elusive blood-red fox that rushes confidently through the lumbers or the red-tail hawk that reigns the tree-tops with its screech certainly conjure a sort of dignity. When we seek out and rightly translate these mannerisms of sort, we can trace them back to the “first and the most prominent, the most powerful, the wisest and the best.”

The Medieval church was no opponent or critic of the natural environment or human body. Rather, it celebrated both, and, per Bonaventure, innovation was an important means to communion with the deduce. “Whoever fails to be dazzled by such gleam of established things is blind; to be awakened by such raucous commotions is deaf; to praise God for all of these exposes is mute; to turn toward the First Beginning from such immense mansions is stupid, ” swears Bonaventure. Creation is good because it originates from and is sustained by our Lord. “And God saw everything that he had saw, and beheld, it was very good”( Genesis 1:31 ). St. Bonaventure is only getting started: his musings on mood in Into God is only the first reverberate of his ladder to the divine.

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