"The outcome or the fruit of reading holy Scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life. When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied. Then, with all our needs fulfilled, we shall truly know the love that surpasses understanding and so be filled with the fullness of God. The purpose of the Scriptures, which come to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the apostles to which I have referred. In order to achieve this, we must study holy Scripture carefully, and teach it and listen to it in the same way...Through that knowledge we can come at last to know perfectly and love completely the most blessed Trinity, whom the saints desire to know and love and in whom all that is good and true finds its meaning and fulfillment."
Bonaventure (AD1221-1274), Breviloquium, Prologue.
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Bonaventure was a Franciscan friar, a head of that order for a time and also a cardinal and, after his contemporary and adversarial interlocutor Thomas Aquinas (a Dominican friar) perhaps the greatest of the medieval scholastic theologians. He is one of the Doctors of the Church in Roman Catholicism, which accords him the title " The Seraphic Doctor". His Breviloquium (1257), one of the essential works of medieval theology, is a theological textbook written for beginning students of the day which contains a prologue establishing the primacy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture both for salvation and theology. It also sets out proper hermeneutical principles as Bonaventure understood them. Bonaventure is remembered today chiefly for his strictly theological writings, but in fact his major works in his own estimation were his scriptural commentaries (which also applies to Aquinas and indeed to the 17th century Lutheran scholastics).
Roman Catholicism, which came into being materially at the Council of Trent ( 25 sessions held between 1545-1563), regards Holy Scripture as a formally insufficient source of knowledge for Christian faith and life. The Roman Magisterium supplements Scripture with Sacred Tradition+ and also asserts itself as the sole infallible interpretive authority where Scripture is concerned. It is difficult to see how this position doesn't in fact subordinate Scripture to the human authority of the Magisterium, since the latter authority alone is empowered to define what Scripture means and what facets of Sacred Tradition supplement it. This is a position which clearly stands in some tension with Bonaventure's view of the sufficiency of scripture enunciated above and his apparent belief in the essential clarity of Scripture.
Alas, although the stated first principles of Bonaventure and others like him were sound, their practice let them down. Where the medievals who believed in scripture's primacy differ from the Reformers who were to come is chiefly in philosophical presuppositions and hermeneutics. Greek philosophy - neo-Platonism in Bonaventure's case and Aristotelianism in Aquinas's case - shaped the theology of the medievals more than they realised, leading to distortions in their apprehension of the Christian Faith. In regard to hermeneutics, their liberal use of the so-called spiritual and allegorical senses of scripture, which Luther et. al. were to reject (unless the genre of Biblical writing authorised it) could lead them to fanciful interpretations and the reading into Scripture of meanings not there (eisegesis). Also, notwithstanding the commitment to the primacy of scripture, the medieval reliance on catenas (collations) of scriptural interpretation going back to the patristic period actually meant that certain traditional readings of scripture, rather than the scriptural text itself, were accorded authority. This meant, for example, that several of Augustine's grievous misinterpretations of scripture , the fruit of his lack of knowledge of the Biblical languages, were perpetuated as an authoritative basis for several doctrines for more than a thousand years in Western Christendom. It was only when Lutheran Reformers, exercising the historical-grammatical exegetical method upon the best Hebrew and Greek texts available to them, allowed God to be God in the church once again, speaking authoritatively to His people through the prophetic and apostolic scriptures.
+ "this truth and discipline are contained in the written books and the unwritten traditions which were received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself or which were dictated by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles themselves and have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand. We (the bishops at Trent). following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receive and venerate with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament (seeing that one God is the author of both) and also the said traditions pertaining to faith and morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth or by the Holy Spirit and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.” Council of Trent, Decree on the Canonical Scriptures
"... it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed... both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence" Vatican II, Dei Verbum
Pic: a medieval miniature of Bonaventure from an illuminated manuscript.
For more patristic and medieval quotations see Lutheran Catholicity,