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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

On the Beholding of God in His Footsteps in This Sensible World

By Saint Bonaventura (c. 1217–1274)

BUT since, as regards the mirror of sensible things, we may contemplate God not only through them as through footprints, but also in them in so far as he is in them by essence, power, and presence,—and this consideration is loftier than the preceding; therefore this kind of consideration occupies the second place, as the second grade of contemplation, whereby we must be guided to the contemplation of God in all created things which enter our minds through the bodily senses.

We must observe, therefore, that this sensible world, which is called the macrocosm—that is, the long world—enters into our soul, which is called the microcosm—that is, the little world—through the gates of the five senses, as regards the apprehension, delectation, and distinction of these sensible things; which is manifest in this way:—In the sensible world some things are generant, others are generated, and others direct both these. Generant are the simple bodies; that is, the celestial bodies and the four elements. For out of the elements, through the power of light, reconciling the contrariety of elements in things mixed, are generated and produced whatever things are generated and produced by the operation of natural power. Generated are the bodies composed of the elements, as minerals, vegetables, sensible things, and human bodies. Directing both these and those are the spiritual substances: whether altogether conjunct, like the souls of the brutes; or separably conjunct, like rational souls; or altogether separate, like the celestial spirits; which the philosophers call Intelligences, we Angels. On these, according to the philosophers, it devolves to move the heavenly bodies; and for this reason the administration of the universe is ascribed to them, as receiving from the First Cause—that is, God—that inflow of virtue which they pour forth again in relation to the work of government, which has reference to the natural consistence of things. But according to the theologians the direction of the universe is ascribed to these same beings, as regards the works of redemption, with respect to which they are called “ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation.”

Man, therefore, who is called the lesser world, has five senses, like five gates, through which the knowledge of all the things that are in the sensible world enters into his soul. For through sight there enter the sublime and luminous bodies and all other colored things; through touch, solid and terrestrial bodies; through the three intermediate senses, the intermediate bodies; through taste, the aqueous; through hearing, the aërial; through smell, the vaporable, which have something of the humid, something of the aërial, and something of the fiery or hot, as is clear from the fumes that are liberated from spices. There enter, therefore, through these doors not only the simple bodies, but also the mixed bodies compounded of these. Seeing then that with sense we perceive not only these particular sensibles—light, sound, odor, savor, and the four primary qualities which touch apprehends—but also the common sensibles—number, magnitude, figure, rest, and motion; and seeing that everything which moves is moved by something else, and certain things move and rest of themselves, as do the animals; in apprehending through these five senses the motions of bodies, we are guided to the knowledge of spiritual motions, as by an effect to the knowledge of causes.

In the three classes of things, therefore, the whole of this sensible world enters the human soul through apprehension. These external sensible things are those which first enter into the soul through the gates of the five senses. They enter, I say, not through their substances, but through their similitudes, generated first in the medium, and from the medium in the external organ, and from the external organ in the internal organ, and from this in the apprehensive power; and thus generation in the medium, and from the medium in the organ, and the direction of the apprehensive power upon it, produce the apprehension of all those things which the soul apprehends externally.

This apprehension, if it is directed to a proper object, is followed by delight. The sense delights in the object perceived through its abstract similitude, either by reason of its beauty, as in vision, or by reason of its sweetness, as in smell and hearing, or by reason of its healthfulness, as in taste and touch, properly speaking. But all delight is by reason of proportion. But since species is the ground of form, power, and action, according as it has reference to the principle from which it emanates, the medium into which it passes, or the term upon which it acts, therefore proportion is observed in three things. It is observed in similitude, inasmuch as it forms the ground of species or form, and so is called speciosity, because beauty is nothing but numerical equality, or a certain disposition of parts accompanied with sweetness of color. It is observed in so far as it forms the ground of power or virtue, and thus is called sweetness, when the active virtue does not disproportionally exceed the recipient virtue, because the sense is depressed by extremes, and delighted by means. It is observed in so far as it forms the ground of efficacy and impression, which is proportional when the agent, in impressing, satisfies the need of the patient, and this is to preserve and nourish it, as appears chiefly in taste and touch. And thus we see how, by pleasure, external delightful things enter through similitude into the soul, according to the threefold method of delectation.

After this apprehension and delight there comes discernment, by which we not only discern whether this thing be white or black (because this alone belongs to the outer sense), and whether this thing be wholesome or hurtful (because this belongs to the inner sense), but also discern why this delights and give a reason therefor. And in this act we inquire into the reason of the delight which is derived by the sense from the object. This happens when we inquire into the reason of the beautiful, the sweet, and the wholesome, and discover that it is a proportion of equality. But a ratio of equality is the same in great things and in small. It is not extended by dimensions; it does not enter into succession, or pass with passing things; it is not altered by motions. It abstracts therefore from place, time, and motion; and for this reason it is immutable, uncircumscribable, interminable, and altogether spiritual. Discernment, then, is an action which, by purifying and abstracting, makes the sensible species, sensibly received through the senses, enter into the intellective power. And thus the whole of this world enters into the human soul by the gates of the five senses, according to the three aforesaid activities.

All these things are footprints, in which we may behold our God. For, since an apprehended species is a similitude generated in a medium and then impressed upon the organ, and through that impression leads to the knowledge of its principle,—that is, of its object,—it manifestly implies that that eternal light generates from itself a similitude or splendor co-equal, consubstantial, and co-eternal; and that He who is the image and similitude of the invisible God, and the splendor of the glory, and the figure of the substance which is everywhere, generates by his first generation of himself his own similitude in the form of an object in the entire medium, unites himself by the grace of union to the individual of rational nature, as a species to a bodily organ, so that by this union he may lead us back to the Father as the fontal principle and object. If therefore all cognizable things generate species of themselves, they clearly proclaim that in them, as in mirrors, may be seen the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the Son, eternally emanating from God the Father….

Since therefore all things are beautiful, and in a certain way delightful, and since beauty and delight are inseparable from proportion, and proportion is primarily in numbers, all things must of necessity be full of number. For this reason, number is the chief exemplar in the mind of the artificer, and in things the chief footprint leading to wisdom. Since this is most manifest to all and most close to God, it leads us most closely and by seven differences to God, and makes him known in all things, corporeal and sensible. And while we apprehend numerical things, we delight in numerical proportions, and judge irrefragably by the laws of these….

For every creature is by nature an effigy and similitude of that eternal Wisdom: but especially so is that creature which in the book of Scriptures was assumed by the spirit of prophecy for the prefiguration of spiritual things; more especially those creatures in whose effigy God was willing to appear for the angelic ministry; and most especially that creature which he was willing to set forth as a sign, and which plays the part not only of a sign, as that word is commonly used, but also of a sacrament.