THE JOURNEY OF THE MIND INTO GOD
HERE BEGINS THE SPECULATION OF THE POOR MAN
IN THE DESERT
THE STEPS IN THE ASCENT TO GOD AND THE
CONSIDERATION OF HIM THROUGH HIS FOOTSTEPS
IN THE UNIVERSE
1. Blessed is the man whose help is from thee; in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps in the vale of tears, in the place which he hath set. Since happiness is nothing else than the enjoyment of the Supreme Good and the Supreme Good is above us, no one can enjoy happiness unless he rise above himself, not, indeed by a bodily ascent, but by an ascent of the heart. But we cannot rise above ourselves unless a superior power raise us. However much, then, the steps of our interior progress may be well-ordered, we can do nothing unless divine aid support us. This divine aid is at hand for all who seek it with a truly humble and devout heart. To seek thus in this vale of tears is to sigh for divine aid in fervent prayer. Prayer, then, is the mother and origin of every upward striving of the soul. Thus Dionysius, in his book, Mystical Theology, wishing td instruct us in the transports of soul, opens first with a prayer. Let us, therefore, pray and say to the Lord, our God:
Conduct me, O Lord, in thy way and I will enter into thy truth; let my heart rejoice that it may fear thy name.
2. By so praying, we are given light to discern the steps of the soul's ascent to God. For we are so created that the material universe itself is a ladder by which we may ascend to God. And among things, some are vestiges, others, images some corporeal, others, spiritual; some temporal, others, everlasting ; some things are outside us, and some within. In order to arrive at the consideration of the First Principle, which is wholly spiritual and eternal and above us, we must pass through vestiges which are corporeal and temporal and outside us. Thus we are guided in the way of God. Next we must enter into our mind, which is the image of God - an image which is everlasting, spiritual, and within us. And this is to enter the truth of God. Finally, looking at the First Principle, we must go beyond to what is eternal, absolutely spiritual, and above us. This is to rejoice in the knowledge of God and in the reverent fear of His Majesty.
3. This triple way of seeing, then, is the three days' journey in the wilderness it is the threefold enlightenment of a single day: the first is like evening; the second, morning; and the third, noon day. It reflects the threefold existence of things: in matter, in the understanding, and in the eternal art, according to which it was said: Let it be made, He made it, and it was made. Finally, it reflects the threefold substance in Christ, Who is our ladder: the corporeal, the spiritual, and the divine substance.
4. In keeping with this threefold progression, our mind has three principal ways of perceiving. In the first way it looks at the corporeal things outside itself, and so acting, it is called animality or sensitivity. In the second, it looks within itself, and is then called spirit. In the third, it looks above itself, and is then called mind. All three ways should be employed to ascend to God, so that He may be loved with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. Herein lies the perfect observance of the Law and at the same time, Christian wisdom.
5. Each of the foregoing ways of seeing may be subdivided according to whether we consider God as the Alpha and the Omega, or whether we consider Him in any one of the aforesaid ways as through and as in a mirror. Or we may consider each of these ways in conjunction with another that is related to it, and in itself. Therefore, these three principal steps of ascent must be increased to six in number. Thus, just as God completed the whole world in six days and on the seventh rested, so the lesser world is led in a most orderly fashion, through six progressive steps of enlightenment, to the quiet of contemplation. Symbolically, the ascent to the throne of Solomon rose by six steps; the Seraphim that Isaias saw had six wings; after six days the Lord called Moses out of the midst of the cloud; and as St. Matthew tells us, it was alter six days that Christ led them up a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them.
6. Corresponding, therefore, to the six steps in the ascent to God, there are six gradated powers of the soul, whereby we ascend from the lowest to the highest, from external things to those that are within, and from the temporal to the eternal. These six powers are the senses, the imagination, the reason, the understanding, the intelligence, and the summit of the mind or the spark of synderesis. We have these powers implanted within us by nature, deformed through sin, reformed through grace. They must be cleansed by justice, trained by knowledge, and perfected by wisdom.
7. According to the original disposition of nature, man was created fit for the quiet of contemplation and thus God placed him in the paradise of pleasure. But turning away from the true light to a changeable good, he and all his descendants were by his fault bent over by original sin, which infected human nature in a twofold manner: the mind with ignorance, and the flesh with concupiscence. The result is that man, blinded and bent over, sits in darkness and does not see the light of heaven, unless grace comes to his aid with justice against concupiscence, and with knowledge and wisdom against ignorance. These effects are brought about through Jesus Christ, who has become for us God-given wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption. For since He is the power of God, the wisdom of God, and the incarnate Word, full of grace and of truth, He made grace and truth. He infuses into us the grace of charity which, since it springs up from a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned, rectifies the whole soul in the threefold power of seeing mentioned above. He has taught the knowledge of truth in its threefold theological sense, so that through symbolic theology we may rightly use sensible things, through literal theology, we may rightly use intellectual things, and through mystical theology, we may be rapt to ecstatic experiences.
8. He, therefore, who wishes to ascend to God must first avoid sin, which deforms nature. He must bring the natural powers of the soul under the influence of grace, which reforms them, and this he does through prayer; under the influence of justice which purifies, and this, in daily acts; under the way of knowledge which enlightens, and this, in meditation; and finally, under the power of wisdom which perfects, and this in contemplation. For just as no one arrives at wisdom except through grace, justice, and knowledge, so it is that no one arrives at contemplation except through penetrating meditation, holy living, and devout prayer. And since grace is the foundation of righteousness of the will, and of penetrating enlightenment of reason, we must first of all pray; next, we must live holily; then we must gaze at the spectacles of truth, and by gazing at them, rise step by step until we reach the mountain height where the God of gods is seen on Sion.
9. Now since it is necessary to ascend before we can descend on Jacob's ladder, let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, setting the whole visible world before us as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the Supreme Creative Artist. Thus we shall be as true Hebrews passing over from Egypt to the land promised to the fathers; we shall be Christians passing over with Christ from this world to the Father; we shall be lovers of the Wisdom Who calls to us and says: Pass over to me all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For by the greatness and the beauty of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen so as to be known thereby.
10. The supreme power, wisdom, and benevolence of the Creator shine forth in created things in so far as the bodily senses inform the interior senses. This is done in a threefold way. For the bodily senses serve the intellect when it investigates rationally, or believes faithfully, or contemplates intellectually. He who contemplates considers the actual existence of things; he who believes, the habitual course of things; he who investigates with his reason, the potential excellence of things.
11. In the first way of seeing, the observer considers things in themselves and sees in them weight, number, and measure: weight in respect to the place towards which things incline; number, by which things are distinguished; and measure, by which things are determined. Hence he sees in them mode, species, and order, as well as substance, power, and activity. From all these considerations the observer can rise, as from a vestige, to the knowledge of the immense power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator.
12. In the second way of seeing, the way of faith, the believer considers this world in its origin, development, and end. For by faith we understand that the world was fashioned by the word of God; by faith we believe that the periods of the three laws of nature, of the Scriptures, and of grace followed one another and have flowed on in a most orderly way; by faith we believe that the world must come to an end in the final judgement. In the first of these beliefs we consider the power of the highest Principle; in the second, His Providence; and in the third, His Justice.
13. In the third way of seeing, he who investigates with his reason sees that some things merely exist, that others exist and live, that still others exist, live, and discern. He also sees that the first of these are the lesser ones, the second are intermediate, and the third are the better. Likewise, he sees that some things are merely corporeal, while others are partly corporeal and partly spiritual. From this observation he realises that others are wholly spiritual, better and of more dignity than the first two modes of being. Moreover, he sees that some of these things are changeable and corruptible, such as terrestrial things; others are changeable and incorruptible, as celestial things. And from this observation he realises that some things are changeless and incorruptible, that is, supercelestial things.
Therefore, from visible things the soul rises to the consideration of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, in so far as He is existing, living, intelligent, purely spiritual, incorruptible, and immutable.
14. We may extend this consideration to the sevenfold general properties of creatures, which bear a sevenfold witness to the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, if we consider the origin, greatness, multitude, beauty, plenitude, activity, and order of all things. The origin of things, according to their creation, distinction, and adornment as the work of the six days, proclaims the power of God that produced all things out of nothing, the wisdom of God that clearly differentiated all things, the goodness of God that lavishly adorned all things. The greatness of things also -looking at their vast extension, latitude, and profundity, at the immense power extending itself in the diffusion of light, and the efficiency of their inner uninterrupted and diffusive operation, as manifest in the action of fire - clearly portrays the immensity of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Triune God, Who, uncircumscribed, exists in all things by His power, presence, and, essence. Likewise, the multitude of things in their generic, specific, and individual diversity of substance, form, or figure, and the efficiency which is beyond all human estimation, manifestly suggests and shows the immensity of the three above-mentioned attributes in God. The beauty of things, too, if we but consider the diversity of lights, forms, and colours in elementary, inorganic, and organic bodies, as in heavenly bodies and in minerals, in stones and metals, and in plants and animals, clearly proclaims these three attributes of God. In so far as matter is full of forms because of the seminal principles, and form is full of power because of its active potentialities, while power is capable of many effects because of its efficiency, the plenitude of things clearly proclaims the same three attributes. In like manner, manifold activity, whether natural, cultural, or moral, by its infinitely multiple variety, shows forth the immensity of that power, art, and goodness, which is for all things "the cause of being, the basis of understanding, and the norm of orderly conduct" Finally, when we consider order in reference to duration, position, and influence, that is, from the standpoint of prior and posterior, superior and inferior, more noble and more ignoble, it clearly points out, first of all, in the book of creation, the primacy, sublimity, and dignity of the First Principle, and thus the infinity of His power; secondly, in the book of Scriptures, the order of divine laws, commands, and judgements, and thus the immensity of His wisdom; and lastly, in the body of the Church, the order of the divine Sacraments, benefices, and rewards, and thus the immensity of His goodness. So it is that order leads us to that which is first and highest, most powerful, most wise, and best.
15. Therefore, whoever is not enlightened by such great splendour in created things is blind; whoever remains unheedful of such great outcries is deaf; whoever does not praise God in all these effects is dumb; whoever does not turn to the First Principle after so many signs is a fool. Open your eyes, therefore; alert the ears of your spirit, unlock your lips, and apply your heart that you may see, hear, praise, love, and adore, magnify, and honour your God in every creature, lest perchance, the entire universe rise against you. For because of this, the whole world shall light against the unwise. But on the contrary, it will be a matter of glory for the wise, who can say with the prophet: For thou hast given me, O Lord, a delight in thy doings, and in the work of thy hands I shall rejoice. How great are thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom, the earth is filled with thy riches.
Quoted from Works of Saint Bonaventure Vol II, Franciscan Institute, New York 1956