Divine illumination in Augustinian and Franciscan thought
Schumacher, Lydia Ann
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In this thesis, my purpose is to determine why Augustine’s theory of knowledge by illumination was rejected by Franciscan theologians at the end of the thirteenth century. My main methodological assumption is that Medieval accounts of divine illumination must be interpreted in a theological context, or with attention to a scholar’s underlying doctrines of God and of the human mind as the image of God, inasmuch as the latter doctrine determines one’s understanding of the nature of the mind’s cognitive work, and illumination illustrates cognition. In the first chapter, I show how Augustine’s understanding of illumination derives from his Trinitarian theology. In the second chapter, I use the same theological methods of inquiry to identify continuity of thought on illumination in Augustine and Anselm. The third chapter covers the events of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries that had an impact on the interpretation of illumination, including the Greek and Arabic translation movements and the founding of universities and mendicant orders. In this chapter, I explain how the first Franciscan scholars transformed St. Francis of Assisi’s spiritual ideals into a theological and philosophical system, appropriating the Trinitarian theology of Richard of St. Victor and the philosophy of the Arab scholar Avicenna in the process. Bonaventure is typically hailed the great synthesizer of early Franciscan thought and the last and best proponent of traditional Medieval Augustinian thought. In the fourth chapter, I demonstrate that Bonaventure’s Victorine doctrine of the Trinity both enabled and motivated him to assign originally Avicennian meanings to philosophical arguments of Augustine and Anselm that were incompatible with the original ones. In the name of Augustine, in other words, Bonaventure introduced a theory of knowledge that is not Augustinian. In the fifth chapter, my aim is to throw the non-Augustinian character of Bonaventure’s illumination theory into sharper relief through a discussion of knowledge and illumination in the thought of his Dominican contemporary Thomas Aquinas. Although Aquinas is usually supposed to reject illumination theory, I show that he only objects to the Franciscan interpretation of the account, even while he bolsters a genuinely Augustinian account of knowledge and illumination by updating it in the Aristotelian forms of philosophical argumentation that were current at the time. In the final chapter, I explain why late thirteenth-century Franciscans challenged illumination theory, even after Bonaventure had enthusiastically championed it. In this context, I explain that that they did not reject their predecessor’s standard of knowledge outright, but only sought to eradicate the intellectually offensive interference of illumination, as he had defined it, which they perceived as inconsistent with the standard, in the interest of promulgating it. In concluding, I reiterate the importance of interpreting illumination as a function of Trinitarian theology. This approach throws the function of illumination in Augustine’s thought into relief and facilitates the effort to identify continuity and discontinuity amongst Augustine and his Medieval readers, which in turn makes it possible to identify the reasons for the late Medieval decline of divine illumination theory and the rise of an altogether unprecedented epistemological standard.