The Force of Union: Affect and Ascent in the Theology of Bonaventure

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The Force of Union: Affect and Ascent in the Theology of Bonaventure

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Title: The Force of Union: Affect and Ascent in the Theology of Bonaventure
Author: Davis, Robert
Citation: Davis, Robert. 2012. The Force of Union: Affect and Ascent in the Theology of Bonaventure. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: The image of love as a burning flame is so widespread in the history of Christian literature as to appear inevitable. But as this dissertation explores, the association of amor with fire played a precise and wide-ranging role in Bonaventure's understanding of the soul's motive power--its capacity to love and be united with God, especially as that capacity was demonstrated in an exemplary way through the spiritual ascent and death of St. Francis. In drawing out this association, Bonaventure develops a theory of the soul and its capacity for transformation in union with God that gives specificity to the Christian desire for self-abandonment in God and the annihilation of the soul in union with God. Though Bonaventure does not use the language of the soul coming to nothing, he describes a state of ecstasy or excessus mentis that is possible in this life, but which constitutes the death and transformation of the soul in union with God. In this ecstatic state, the boundaries between the soul and God--between active and passive, mover and moved, will and necessity--are effectively
consumed in the fire of union. This dissertation offers a new approach to the role of affect in Bonaventure’s theology through three lenses: his elaboration of the soul’s union with God as inspired by the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite; Bonaventure’s conception of synderesis or the soul’s natural affective “weight” or inclination to God; and the ecstatic death of the soul that Bonaventure describes in the Itinerarium mentis in Deum and which is witnessed in the body of St. Francis in the Legenda Maior. This dissertation argues that Bonaventure’s “affective" gloss on the Dionysian corpus was not an interpolation but a working out of the Dionysian conception of eros. In elaborating the soul’s natural motion to the good, moreover, Bonaventure situates divine desire within an Aristotelian cosmos. And as the manifestation of this desire in Francis’s dying body makes evident, for Bonaventure affectus plays at the boundary of body and spirit and names a force that is more fundamental than the distinction between the corporeal and incorporeal.
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